Lives of the fellows

Edmund Leslie Harris

b.11 April 1928 d.29 September 1998
CB MB BCh Wits(1952) MRCP Edin(1959) MRCP(1959) FRCP Edin(1971) FRCP(1975) MFPHM(1978) FFPHM(1980) FFPM RCP(1989)

Edmund Leslie Harris was deputy chief medical officer from 1977 to 1989. His responsibilities took him all over the world and he won great international respect for his work on the control and regulation of medicines. He was born in Benoni, South Africa. He graduated in medicine from the University of Witwatersrand in 1952 and then spent some years in general practice in Benoni. He came to the United Kingdom in 1955 and obtained his memberships of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of Edinburgh and London. Ed Harris held a number of senior registrar posts within the NHS. In 1962 he was appointed senior medical adviser to Aspro Nicholas and, two years later, in 1964 became medical director of Abbott Laboratories (UK), holding that post until 1968.

In 1965 he became a founder of the Association of Medical Advisers in the Pharmaceutical Industry (AMAPI) and served as secretary and president between 1965 and 1968. The AMAPI provided the only forum for pharmaceutical physicians and had an active educational role for doctors joining the pharmaceutical industry. It was a means for medical advisers to meet, together with others, such as clinical pharmacologists, to discuss all the issues involved in the clinical development of new medicines, their licensing and safety surveillance.

Ed Harris co-edited two AMAPI publications: The evaluation of drugs for tropical diseases, Horsham, AMAPI, 1967, and The principles and practice of clinical trials, Edinburgh, Livingstone, 1970. He was also a trustee of a charity formed by AMAPI - the Trust for Education and Research in Therapeutics (TERT) - that sponsored many meetings and projects. He was a member of the board of examiners of the Royal Colleges of Physicians’ diploma of pharmaceutical medicine.

In 1969 Ed Harris joined the Department of Health and Social Security as a senior medical officer and was appointed to the Committee on the Safety of Drugs, chaired by Sir Derrick Dunlop [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.170] which worked with the pharmaceutical industry under a voluntary agreement. With the implementation of the Medicines Act (1968) in September 1971 he transferred to and became medical assessor to the Committee on the Safety of Medicines and to the medicines division, holding that post from 1974 to 1977. Thus, his early career in the civil service brought him centre stage for the major changes in the British government’s administrative and advisory structure for the licensing of pharmaceuticals and their safety surveillance. After the UK joined the European Community in 1975, Ed Harris became involved with aspects of Community drug regulation and became the first vice-chairman of the European Committee for Proprietary Medicinal Products, from 1975 to 1977.

With premature snow-white hair and quiet speech, he was a warm and loyal colleague and companion. Within the department and at meetings he was always ‘ready to stand up and be counted’ if he disagreed with the way events were moving. He liked his colleagues to be similarly outspoken in putting forward their views - even if it meant disagreeing with ministers - and he had no liking for civil servants being ‘mealy-mouthed’. Ed had a very clear mind and would get to the heart of a matter quickly. He also liked his colleagues to present facts and opinions quickly and crisply.

Ed Harris was closely involved with the establishment of the joint tripartite meetings of the drug regulatory authorities of the UK, USA and Canada. To some extent these meetings were the beginnings of the wider International Conference of Drug Regulatory Authorities (ICDRA).

Working within UK Government, hospitality budgets were not always generous. When Ed Harris and medicines division colleagues hosted a WHO meeting in London at the Great Eastern Hotel at Liverpool Street station, they had to host a drinks party at ‘Dirty Dicks’ - among cobwebs and mummified cats. He carried the occasion off superbly.Indeed, many recall that Ed was ‘unflappable’ and at ease with the wide range of people he met and worked with throughout his career.

The only occasion Ed Harris was seriously perturbed was during a tripartite meeting in Canada when the meeting, being held outdoors in the grounds because of the heat, was joined by a large and very determined beaver. The 18 year involvement in tripartite meetings was recognised in 1988 by the award of a medal and a plaque from the USA and Canada respectively.

In 1977 he was promoted from head of the medicines division to deputy chief medical officer, a post he held until his retirement from the Department of Health in 1989. In his capacity as deputy chief medical officer, his responsibilities, in addition to medicines control, included communicable diseases, international health, environmental issues and scientific services to the NHS. He served on the advisory committee of the National Blood Transfusion Service, on the expert group on viral haemorrhagic fevers, on the National Biological Board, and on the boards of the Public Health Laboratory Service and the Central Blood Products Authority.

He was closely involved in the initial Department of Health work on HIV and AIDS. He was also the first chairman of the NHS selected list committee on drugs. He was representative governor of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and was a governor of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The award of the Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) was an acknowledgement and tribute to a deserving civil servant. His colleagues at the Department of Health will remember him with affection for his wisdom and for his ability to nurture his staff.

In 1959 Ed Harris married Robina (Rona) Semple (née Potter). They had no children.

J P Griffin

(Volume XI, page 247)

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